Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The 21st Century Game Show Blues

As I think I've made clear here from time to time, I'm kind of a game show nut, though I can't say I'm all that wild about the modern, post-Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? style of game shows. Millionaire itself was okay in the early going, when the contestants earned their way on via the phone-game, and had genuine human reactions in front of the cameras. But the pointless tension-building and futuristic sets of Millionaire too quickly became the norm for modern game shows, from Greed onward. You can waste a whole hour watching a single contestant work his or her way through a round of Deal Or No Deal or Identity or 1 Vs. 100; and not see much actually happen.

Because one of our regular A.V. Club correspondents, Tom The Dog, appeared in "the mob" on 1 Vs. 100 this past Friday–read his report on the experience here–I watched my first episode since the premiere. My knee-jerk reaction is that the show is still paced way too slow, spending sometimes five minutes or more on questions that people on Jeopardy answer in five seconds. Given what Tom has written about the contestant-weeding process, it would seem that, in theory, the people who face the mob should be pretty smart. But it's like they've been encouraged to act dumb, or at least to hem and haw long enough that everyone at home has had a chance to figure out the answer and start yelling it at the screen. The mob really has it much tougher, because they have to answer fast, and stick around for a while, hoping that the contestant eventually guesses and loses, rather than walking away with their money.

What annoys me about 1 Vs. 100 is that while the game appears to be square, the show is a little bent. It needs contestants who are engaging–and not hapless–but they apparently can't be any brighter than the people watching at home. And really, these are general interest questions being asked, not trivia per se. The contestants shouldn't act like they're being asked to solve quadratic equations.

At least 1 Vs. 100 is more challenging than Deal Or No Deal, which requires absolutely no skill beyond tolerating Howie Mandel for a half-hour or so. Over the holidays, I watched a couple of episodes of Deal Or No Deal for the first time since its initial one-week run a year ago, and I noticed that they've made a few changes to distract the audience from how dull the game itself is, like having the case-models talk more, and giving the banker's offers more zing in the presentation. What hasn't changed though, is the contestants' uniform, moronic insistence that the random case they chose is bound to contain the maximum amount of money they can win. Throughout, they congratulate themselves for their faith, saying stuff like, "I didn't come this far to give up now!," as though sheer will could change the laws of probability.

There's something about Deal Or No Deal that's more insidious than its molasses-pace and spotlit emptiness. Like 1 Vs. 100–like our culture, increasingly–it neither encourages nor rewards actual intelligence and talent. It rewards hope, self-regard, and blind persistence.

No deal.

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